Photo: anandtech.com

I guess you could call me something of a fanboy where Apple laptops are concerned. I bought the very first one, the Macintosh Portable, in 1989 (and actually still have it tucked away in a cupboard even now). This was followed by a series of PowerBooks before the MacBooks came along, and I currently have both a MacBook Pro 17 and MacBook Air 11.

The split between the Air and Pro ranges made sense for a whole bunch of reasons up to now. The Air has performed two important roles for Apple. First, the cachet of producing the world’s slimmest notebook further boosted Apple’s style credentials. Even today, after it lost the slimmest notebook crown and has seen the wedge design copied by others, it remains a style icon, getting admiring glances every time you pull it out in a coffee shop … 


Second, the entry-level MacBook Air sits at the more affordable end of expensive, putting it within reach of a key demographic: students and those at the beginning of the careers. Apple will never do cheap, but if it can get its future market fully invested in the Apple ecosystem now, the potential lifetime revenue stream is huge. 


The MacBook Pro, in contrast, is all about high specs and high prices. There used to be significant differences in spec. The MBA had a pedestrian processor, limited RAM, limited storage. The MBP got you significantly better processors, upgradeable RAM, far higher capacity drives, a DVD writer and high-speed Ethernet. The two machines were aimed at different types of user.

Today, though, the differences are markedly smaller. Both use SSDs for storage, and neither offers mega capacities by today’s standards. Both have effectively non-upgradeable RAM. Neither has an optical drive. Neither has Ethernet.


Spec-wise, you can buy a MBA with Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD. The Intel HD Graphics 5000 card will happily drive a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display at full resolution alongside its own display. It’s a practical machine even for demanding tasks like video editing.

Sure, today’s top-end MBP gets you that Core i7 running at a significantly higher clock-speed, up to 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD – and of course, you get the Retina display and the ability to drive two Thunderbolt Displays rather than one. I’m not suggesting that they are the same machine.

But I am arguing that the difference between them today is quantitative rather than qualitative. For the vast majority of customers, even professional users, there’s little you can do on a MBP that you can’t do on a MBA.


Retina displays are getting cheaper all the time. The kind of PPI figures that made the rMBP the envy of other manufacturers is now commonplace on mid-range tablets. Sure, yield rates still fall as screen sizes increase, but other manufacturers have demonstrated that retina-standard screens are now mainstream technology.

Put a Retina display into a MacBook Air, and use the wedge approach to slim down that MacBook Pro, and do you really have two distinct ranges?

There is one stumbling-block to that famous wedge shape. It’s made possible by limiting the number of ports. Traditionally, pro users wanted as many as they could get. But if Apple has taught us anything over the past few years, it’s that it’s not afraid to sacrifice what it considers legacy technology in the pursuit of aesthetics. Optical drives? Gone. Ethernet? Gone. It wouldn’t take much in the way of additional Thunderbolt adapters to remove the need for multiple USB ports.


So I’m confident there will be a single MacBook range by 2015. I think there’s more than a fighting chance there will be a single range by 2014. The exact specs will depend on what technology is available at what cost, but here’s what I see as the potential line-up.

Three sizes: 11-inch, 13-inch and 15-inch. All using the wedge shape of the MBA. All with Retina screens. All in a range of specs, as with the current models. The entry-level 11-inch model will be priced somewhere close to the current base-spec MBA, making whatever spec compromises are needed to achieve it (this is the machine that gets future Mac loyalists on board). The maxed-out models will be, as now, high specs at high prices.


Oh, and … one more thing. I don’t expect it to happen, but I would love for Apple to bring back a 17-inch model. I’m pretty sure what drove the decision to discontinue it was not the poor sales but the fact that it wasn’t practical to make a 17-inch Retina display at a realistic price. By next year, it probably will be.

Like I say, I’m not holding my breath. I know it’s a niche product, reputedly responsible for only one percent of all Mac sales. But resolution is, for some of us, no substitute for physical screen size. For most mobile tasks, I use my MBA 11 and adore it. But there are times when only a 17-inch display will do. Go on, Tim, be nice.

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92 Responses to “Opinion: Will Apple return to a single MacBook range next year?”

  1. Unlikely. Looks to me like Tim doesn’t know exactly what to do. 4 different iPads, 3 different iPhones… Can’t imagine testing waters with expensive stuff like MacBooks.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Phones is basically one range (iPhone 5) with three models (5, 5c, 5s). The 4s is now a legacy model which will vanish next time around. iPads, agreed, are messier.

      • Phones will be 2 lines next year with the release of a 5.5 inch wrap around display iPhone. Currently they are trying a 4.7 and 5.5 version, both might be released and keep a plastic version of the 5s

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Apple is testing lots of different sizes. Whether it ends up with one range or two remains to be seen. Hopefully it will steer clear of the phablet route.

      • shareef777 says:

        I agree with your article. Even the iPad will eventually be one model with similar specs but different sizes. As it is today, the iPad Air and retina mini are the same machine just with different screen sizes (the iPad2 and original mini will be discontinued as I don’t believe their sales numbers will hold up this holiday). Wouldn’t be that far fetched to believe that the next refresh will include a larger ‘pro’ along side the mini/air iPads all with similar specs.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Will be interesting to see whether the larger iPad makes it out of the lab. With MacBooks offering genuine all-day battery-life, I see a lot less reason to want one.

      • The larger iPad will be Apples take on the Surface. A clamshell case will be part of it and wouldn’t surprise me of they go the glass route and have a cover glass that shows notifications and also a keyboard. Apple will find someway to make it premium and different from the mini and air iPads.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I definitely don’t see Apple adding yet another form factor. A larger iPad, maybe; an official Apple iPad keyboard, maybe; a whole new format just for one model iPad, no.

      • I wasn’t saying another form factor just a differ t take on a case. I could see part of a claim sell case having glass either for notifications or a keyboard. Time fore Apple to use the ridges built into glass for a keyboard.

      • Shaun G says:

        Given how important the iPhone is to Apple’s business now, it makes sense to diversify the range. I think they will go with 3 new models for the iPhone 6 – 4″, 4.7″ and 5.5″. I hope they make them in a range of aluminium colours similar to the current iPod touch colours. The iPhone 5c is a strange one. I can only think they will keep it as a basic entry level phone that will gradually get cheaper over the years with new colour options each year but little else. Bit like they did with the iPod touch the last few years.

    • Tallest Skil says:

      Well, you don’t have the first clue what YOU’RE on about. Great way to start the comments section.

    • I don’t see them doing that either. The main difference between Pro and Air is simple. Pro is for more powerful stuff, and Air for more casual stuff. One is ‘big’ and powerful, the other thin and less powerful.
      Eventually they’ll merge iOS and OSX and that may be coming sooner than we expect. I suppose the Air would be perfect for a first rollout.

      • I’m not sure they will merge at first. I see either the 12.9″ iPad Pro or 12″ MacBook Air first having a dual OS of OSX and iOS. I could see the MacBook Airs being the first Apple computer to use arm chips instead of Intel and see Apple making a version of OSX that runs on arm and putting IOS on the same machine before they merge the two if the ever merge.

    • I see Apple really working to clean up and simplify there product offerings in 2014. I see the iPhone being only offered in one new screen size, 4.7 is my guess. There 6c model will be a 5s in a plastic case – and I really see them working to make this model more affordable, lets say $50 on contract, same price without. The 6c of course will maintain the 4 inch display. They’ll clean up the iPad line up too, removing the non-retina iPad mini and the iPad 2. I think if they release a larger iPad next year, they’ll also change the naming following how they distinguish MacBook Airs from one another – and how the Nexus has named its models: iPad 7, iPad 9 and iPad 11 – they’ll all be ‘Air’ thin and light. Moving the same way as there laptops, the previous generation will be sold off quickly – unless – they go the iPhone route and offer an iPad c lineup – which just muddys the waters again. I also think Apple will go back to the MacBook lineup merging the Air and Pro line ups. In the same way they’ll merge the Mini and Air lineup under the iPad name and possibly their iPod lineup too.

      • *Same price without contract as it is currently, not $50 without contract.

      • I will never buy an iPhone that won’t properly fit in my shirt or trouser pockets. And seeing that the iPhone is the most popular phone in the world, I’d assume that many feel the same way.

        Apple could bring out a larger device to sell to those that need a larger screen. But if they do, I would argue that they would also need to retain a form factor quite similar to the existing iPhone 5.

  2. I don’t know about combining the range as by todays standards they could shave quite a bit of thickness from the Air. What I would like to see is 12″, 14″ and 16″ Macbooks in the same footprint but with smaller bezels. So rMPA 12/14″ and rMBP 14/16″.

  3. With the intro of the iPad air and an iPad Pro coming in March it is unlikely Apple will get rid of the MacBook Air line. Apple would not went with that naming scheme if they didn’t plan on having a luxury lime of iPads. Apple needs a entry line of MacBooks to get consumers into the ecosystem.

    The only way apple will get rid of the air soon is if the 12.9 inch iPad runs both iOS and OSX on a custom arm chip. I just don’t see Apple switching away from Intel chiips in 2014. First apple has to do a complete overhaul of the look of OSX like they just did with iOS 7 which will probably be revealed at WWDC in 2014.

    Apple won’t nix the MacBook Air until they have a large iPad that can run both iOS and OSX and has the thinness and portability of the MacBook Air. Late 2015 it might be a possibility bit not next year.

    • I don’t think Apple will introduce a bigger iPad. When asked, a representative said that they are already making a bigger iPad, it’s called the MacBook Air.
      And what do you mean with that it is unlikely that Apple will get rid of their Air-line? The article didn’t talk about the discuntinuation of the MBA line but rather of a merge of both lines. I also don’t think that OS X will soon look like iOS, it would almost look like Win7 with all those translucent window-areas. And finally, why would they make up a device that runs iOS and OS X? That would be the complete opposite of user friendliness and the Ativ Book Q by Samsung which ran both, Android and Win7 was a failure.
      Your predictions unfortunately are rubbish but we will see in March if I am still right. (I also don’t think that there will be a March event by the way)

      • I didn’t say they would make OSX look like iOS, I just said they will have to do a major UI change like when seen from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

        Apple will go to arm chips on their products soon and is why they will have a device that uses both iOS and OSX and a large iPad is the perfect candidate for that.

      • They’ll eventually have to make a machine that can run pro-apps and using multitasking with windows. I’m say eventually not because there’s a pressure, but because that’s were they’ll go…eventually.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I’m not suggesting a range will be dropped, rather than two ranges will be merged. I absolutely agree that an entry-level MacBook is crucial, hence my suggestion on what will happen there.

      • If they merge then then one ranges is dropped. I don’t see apple going to the wedge shape for all laptops it needs that space for batteries that can hold up to higher end graphic cards and processor heavy pro apps.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Today’s Haswell processors really don’t need big batteries, and both battery technology and processor efficiency will continue to improve, so I don’t see that as a barrier, merely a question of 2014 vs 2015 in my view.

      • The Haswell models shaved .04″ of the early 2013 model and can’t see Aple thinning it down just make it a wedge 9 months later. I see no chance in 2014 of the pros going to a wedge.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        We’ll see. :-) My money is on 2015, but I don’t see 2014 as impossible.

      • I don’t necessarily think Apple will make all of there Laptops a wedge shape, as this design is years old. At the WWDC in 2012 Apple had the chance to make the Pros a wedge shape and they didn’t. Rather I think the Airs will move to a flat shape like the Pros, they’ll get thinner too – it’s perfect because every competitor has copied Apples wedge design, and there is no way for Apple to make consumers think of the competition’s ultra-books as out-dated, unsexy and undesirable faster than making the flat shape popular. I think Apple will be able to increase the number of ports on the Air by doing this as well, which opens the line up to a wider range of consumers and helps to assimilate the Airs and the Pros – because I really don’t think they’ll drop off a bunch of ports from the Pro – it’s already at it’s minimum. In terms of other comments about batteries, its true that Apple will need the space for large batteries but not for processors and graphics cards rather the Retina displays that will be in all models of the lineup. Lastly, I see this happening in 2014, as I do also see an iOS-ing of the OSX. This over haul of the hardware and software at the same time will surely stir up interest in the company, stock prices will rise and maybe, just maybe people will start calling Apple innovative again.

    • There certainly wouldn’t be a machine that runs OSX AND iOS, but one that runs a hybrid of both.
      I am sure Apple can make it.

      First step is to make iOS apps able to run inside of windows. Just like they did with iPad apps, they would be tailored for the window factor and screen size. iWorks apps on OSX would already fit perfecty in an ‘iPad with windows’. The rest of the system would be a lighter version of OSX. In time, they could transition it to something with more and more functions coming from OSX, while keeping it touch-friendly.

  4. Good points you make! right now it seems too ridiculous to drop the USB ports and I haven’t seen Thunderbolt sticks around, which could be a nice substitution,… if any other manufacturers adopted thunderbolt. Acer even dropped Thunderbolt support in July. USB 3 and mini-display port will do. Honestly not much else is left on the MBA, Audio, SD and charging port. Anybody who uses their MBA for a little more than casual tasks already uses Hubs to increase their number of ports. Sure many things work wirelessly now, like syncing to iTunes, but 802.11 ac is of course still not as fast as physical ports. I hope they don’t get rid of any ports they have in their MBA models now, I use every single one.

  5. Alex Andre says:

    Good to know I’m not the only one hoping for 17′ to return. Retina or no retina.

  6. There more change that thunderbolt gets dropped then USB 3.
    There just isnt enough thunderbolt products out to justify killing usb. Notice how apple killed off firewire from its macs. USB is not going anywhere..

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I agree, and I’m not suggesting that USB 3 will disappear, only that two ports are probably enough for most users, and a Thunderbolt to USB 3 hub would work for the exceptions.

  7. Macbook Pro S and Macbook Pro C.

  8. gerrycurry says:

    Intel integrated graphics are better, but still not up to the requirements of graphics pros. They still need the desecrate graphics cards the Macbook Pros offer.

  9. I disagree. It’s not a MacBook Pro if it only has Intel integrated graphics

  10. “It wouldn’t take much in the way of additional Thunderbolt adapters to remove the need for multiple USB ports.” …or any at all. Get an adapter, Apple will say.

    And I don’t mind all MacBooks taking on the Air’s form factor, just so long as Apple can figure out how to make the bezel glass. The silver bezel looks dated and distracts me for some reason.

  11. The Pro still makes sense for content developers. We need all the horse power we can get to create art, apps, videos, etc… If all Apple left me with was the Air? I probably wouldn’t stay with Apple. The AIR is nice but it’s missing the raw power and memory of the Pro, even today. As someone who has worked with both, trust me when I say there is still a world of difference between the Pro and the Air when you need to do real work.

    If they come out with an AIR that can hold the ram, cpu and storage of the Pro that’s one thing, but dropping that all together would be a mistake.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      My argument is not that Apple would drop the Pro, but offer a single range with specs covering the future equivalent of everything from the current entry-level Air to current maxed-out Pro.

      • I think if Apple goes this route they will have to bump the specs in the Airs, they’ll skew to the more powerful in my opinion. I.E. Larger ssd standard on the machines, this will make the revamped lineup most appealing to the largest group of people

  12. My bet:
    iPad Pro, bigger screen, from 64GB up to 256GB, price starts at $999
    MacBook Air 12 inch, new design. Intel Broadwell 14nm (entry level), price starts at $999
    MacBook Pro 13/15 inch, same design. Intel Broadwell 14nm, Nvidia Maxwell (both high end).

  13. The MBP is more expensive than ever because of the SSD drives that come in it. To have a decent drive, one must now pay more than 2000 $. Or buy an Air but with an inferior processor and largely inferior screen. That’s too bad.

  14. cliffbig says:

    I agree that the differentiation in the two lines has become less significant in recent years–and I STRONGLY agree that Apple needs to restore the 17″ Macbook Pro. I haven’t bought a Macbook since the final iteration of the 17″. Can’t really work effectively on anything smaller than that due to the nature of the work that I do on the computer. Sure, I could hook it up to a Thunderbolt monitor, but if I’m going to do that, why not just use the iMac in my home office instead?

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, as soon as Apple discontinued the MBP 17, I immediately bought the very last model, replacing an older one, to maximise its useful life. I upgraded it to 2 x 1TB hard drives (and 16GB RAM), and will likely replace the spinning metal with SSDs early in the new year.

    • Agreed. Same here. Bought my last 17″ MBP in 2011. Haven’t bought another laptop since. Very difficult to work on anything smaller. I did buy a 27″ iMac this year … but have been waiting as long as I can to upgrade the laptop. If they brought back the 17″ … it would be an easy decision. I would buy. Otherwise, I’ll be waiting — until an upgrade is absolutely necessary.

  15. As a new MacBook Pro user, I do agree that the lines are getting closer, but I’ve already been dismayed at the lack of some I/O options on my machine. I already use both my USB ports regularly, so cutting them from 2 to 1 would keep me from being interested in a future upgrade. And I wound up buying a thunderbolt to ethernet adapter when my wireless wasn’t working right. so I wish it still had standard ethernet. Also, why leave off the a mic input on the 13″? If I want to learn garageband I need to buy another adapter? I wonder if a 12″ screen would satisfy a current 13″ user. I’ve gone from a 15″ windoze machine to a 13″ mac pro, and it’s OK but I sometimes still wish for the bigger screen.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      MacBook Airs have two USB ports, so there certainly wouldn’t be any need to reduce to one. In the office, my MacBook Pro has a single Thunderbolt connection to my Thunderbolt Display, and all my USB devices connect via that (some of them via a powered USB hub).

      • You say now that there wouldn’t be any need to reduce to one, but the article says “It wouldn’t take much in the way of additional Thunderbolt adapters to remove the need for multiple USB ports.” I’m saying I like having two right on the machine…no hub or thunderbolt converter required.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Right, and I’d expect two to remain. The wedge shape just makes it difficult to have two on one side.

      • Since they are most likely ditching both the 11″ and 13″ for a 12 inch the ports will have to be adjusted. I would assume they would go without a bezel and adjust the size of the keyboard. I would guess one side will be MagSafe, USB 3, and audio port and other thunderbolt and a combo sd card USB port from Apple’s patent.

      • I like the idea of Apple merging the 11″ and the 13″ together into a 12″ model, but I don’t really know if they’ll bring the 17″ back. They may just merge the 15″ and 17″ as well and give us a 16″.

    • Air Burt says:

      The 1/8″ jack is now a combo in/out port; you can use it for input still. They’ve been this way on the 13″ and 15″ for years now. My late ’08, 15″ MacBook Pro is one of the last with separate ports.

  16. You can get much higher than a 512GB SSD in a MBP Retina…

  17. driverbenji says:

    Personally, I think a bit differently than you. iPad Air is the hint. A larger iPad will also be an “Air”. It may take until 2015, but, iOS & OS X are merging, and, by that time, I think we’ll see 10″ & 13″ iPad Airs replace the MacBook Airs, drop ‘em completely. MacBook Pros will at least continue with retina screens, not sure about non-retina, they may drop those as well, and then be completely done with built-in optical drives. Just my thoughts.

  18. Kevin Raub says:

    The small size hard drive of the MPA means means many users cannot get by without having to buy an external HD for their music and photos – which is a pain to have to have plugged in anytime you want to listen to music or work in iPhoto. For that reason, I switched back to MBP despite loving everything about my MPA otherwise. But until the hard drive get to 750GB or 1TB, it’s a no go for me.

  19. Shaun G says:

    I tend to agree that they will rationalise the MB range next year, although I think they will bump up to 12″, 14″ and 16″. I’m not sure if they will keep the MBA name for the 12″ and lower the price to compete with the Chromebooks for the student market or if they will pitch it as an ideal travel companion. The 14″ and 16″ will certainly be MBP branded with the 14″ targeted at students, home users, etc and the 16″ targeted at Pro users. Bumping the screen size up to 16″ would still make it light and portable but also capture some of that demand for a 17″ model.

  20. I seriously doubt the two lines will merge. The wedge form factor won’t be able to support the number of ports left on the pro version, which itself is down to the bare minimum needed by a laptop used as a desktop replacement.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I use one port on mine when in the office – the Thunderbolt. I have seven USB devices hanging off that …

      • Yes, and how much did that hub cost? Or is it the Thunderbolt monitor with the USB 2.0 Ports? I have both Thunderbolt ports filled, one TB drive and 1 FW800 drive. I have the (stupid) superdrive wasting a USB port since it can’t be used with a hub and the remaining USB port runs a 10 port hub.

        Until Thunderbolt becomes as affordable as Firewire I’d rather have USB 3.0 ports.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        It’s a decent hub, but then the display it’s attached to wasn’t cheap either …

  21. Maybe someday Intel and the USB consortium will get half a brain and make USB4, which eliminates the failure known as USB3 and make something faster, smaller, simpler.

    USB3 is a hybrid of 1990s tech, in the name of backwards compatibility. Step into the new century with something smarter. ThunderBolt ain’t it either.

  22. Yes, yes, YES! Please bring back the mighty 17″! I have a 2010 model and would updrage the day it came out! My iPad takes care of my daily browsing, but to deal with 22MP digital photos and 1080p video editing, with Final Cut Pro, it takes the big boy 17″ MacBook Pro.

    • driverbenji says:

      Thunderbolt 2 is already beyond USB 3. It will go to optical connections to offer speeds of 1Gb, and much longer cable lengths, which is what the original idea was, but apple wanted to implement it earlier with copper wire, more cost effective. Thunderbolt goes beyond USB by being able to connect displays, data storage, and also PCIe expansion. We’ll see the 2 version implemented in the new Mac Pro this month, driving 4K displays for starters. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderbolt_(interface) (if my link doesn’t show, look up thunderbolt in Wikipedia)

  23. uniszuurmond says:

    I think you’re on to something. Apple performs best when it has fewer variations of products – from both a manufacturing point of view as well as a market position and recognition point of view. So let’s throw in a few wildcards:

    “Air” will mean not only mean thin and light, but also that it’s running iOS. So…

    MacBook Pro will stay as is, but MacBook Air will become an iOS laptop with 12″ display. Hence all the rumours about a 12″ iPad in the testing.

    iPad models will no longer be differentiated on non-visible items (such as with/without cellular or storage size), but rather size, similar to the laptops. iPad Air 8″ and iPad Air 10″.

    Ditto for the iPhone. 5c will become iPhone 4″, and 5s will become iPhone 5″.

  24. giorgiopagliara says:

    Ben, your argue is really interesting.
    I think you miss to consider just one little thing that may change the whole scenario: ARM.
    In 2014 or, at least, 2015 MBA will use an ARM architecture A8X or A9X i guess. Using ARM on MBA will result in lower prices (around $100 off) and more battery life (or more lighter and thinner form factor). This will differentiate more MBA from MBP and will make their coexistence possible also from a marketing point of view.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      It’s a possible route, certainly – create an ARM-based MBA while leaving the MBP on Intel – but possibly a messy one. I suspect any switch to ARM will wait until it’s up to the job across the range.

  25. Jill Dando says:

    some of those “admiring glances” could be a toerag or two sizing you up for a robbery..best sharpen your wits, pulling a grand and a half easy to steal lump out of your purse in public..
    chortle “have a nice day”

  26. Kem Miller says:

    Curious what folks’ thoughts are re: the future body of the MacBooks. I’ve thought for a few years that Apple might eventually go to carbon fiber but I don’t know if that’s feasible. I’ve had the MBP since 2008, have liked the aluminum unibody but am ready for something fresher now.